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Forty-nine years ago today, Phyllis Webstad walked into St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in British Columbia for the first time. She was six years old and a tribal citizen of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. She wore a bright orange shirt from her grandmother. It gave her some sense of connection to home in this frightening new environment.
School officials took the shirt from her nearly immediately. “The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared, and how I felt like I was worth nothing,” Webstad told Native News Online. “All of us little children were crying, and no one cared.”
Nearly half a century later, we wear orange in honor of the National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools; an occasion marked in both the United States and Canada.
The issue of Native boarding schools might be familiar to you. For over a year now, FCNL’s Portia Kay^nthos Skenandore-Wheelock has raised awareness about this terrible chapter in the halls of Congress. FCNL advocates have sent more than 47,000 letters to lawmakers in support of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).
It is important for Quakers to engage in this work. This is part of our own history. Friends ran some of these boarding schools, and we must face and reconcile the white supremacy, abuse, and cultural destruction at the core of these institutions.
This advocacy is vitally important, and we will continue to engage with it until Congress acts. But today, our call to you is simple: take a moment to lean into remembrance. The pain and suffering created by the U.S. government and Christian churches during the boarding school era is impossible to imagine for those who haven’t lived through it—yet we must try anyway.
Read this powerful reflection by Mary Annette Pember, whose mother survived one of these boarding schools. Read this column by FCNL’s Portia Kay^nthos Skenandore-Wheelock, on how the tragic legacy of boarding schools lives on today. Visit the website of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, which is helping lead the way for truth and healing.
Today, we remember. Tomorrow, we act.
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